College Climb

Navigate your way to scholarship money to fund your child's education

scholarship applications],” says Randy, who plans to major in journalism and communications. In addition to emphasizing good grades, Randy’s mother got him involved in church as well as community outreach activities. His teachers also helped him become well-rounded by allowing him to participate in his high school’s Youth and Government day. Under this program, Randy was assigned to assist the city manager-an official who oversees salaries and regulates the parks, sanitation and police departments. This experience gave Randy an edge over scholarship applicants who could only profile their grades.

In fact, a student’s extracurricular activities do impact the scholarship review process. “Your child could be the best bookworm in the world-we look at academics-but we also want to see how he fits in with the people around him,” emphasizes A.D. James Jr., executive director of student financial services at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university in Prairie View, Texas. James has sat on several scholarship boards. Twenty-eight-year-old Chris Vuturo, winner of $885,000 in scholarships and author of The Scholarship Advisor 1999 Edition (Princeton Review, $23) echoes the sentiment: “The numbers don’t really tell the whole story. Don’t just be a good student; get involved.” In high school, Vuturo worked with terminally ill children and says it helped him demonstrate leadership abilities and his concern for the community.

But even the best grades and most diligent community involvement doesn’t mean anything unless you’re able to link your child to the right scholarship program. Here’s how you can make a match:

You can start your search at your local library or on the Internet, but you should also refer to less commonly used sources. Some local businesses-banks, credit unions and doctor’s offices, for example-have funds set aside for educational programs. Also, find out if your employer provides educational benefits to you and your children. Check bookstores for a selection of books and computer programs that detail specific scholarships-The Scholarship Handbook 1999 (The College Board, $24.95) is one example. For additional guidance, consult the advisors listed in the brochure of the college that your child wants to attend. They can tell you whether the institution has financial assistance programs. And don’t forget to find out if corporations and local organizations (e.g., churches and Masonic lodges) have earmarked funds for educational purposes.

Although Randy received significant financial assistance, he does admit that the 40 scholarship applications he completed between September 1998 and May 1999 were restricted to those programs his counselor identified. “I could’ve done a lot more for myself,” he confesses. His mother says, “It was a combination of the counselor being pulled in too many directions and Randy’s preoccupation with graduation.” While some say guidance counselors are overworked, others say the practice of preferential treatment is also a factor. “They’re overloaded and may service up to 400 students,” says Yvonne Gittens, associate director of financial aid in student financial services at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “However, there are a lot of guidance counselors who don’t

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